In addition to being a cheaper way to stock your flock, hatching eggs yourself is pretty easy and a lot of fun. We hatched heritage Bourbon Red turkeys and French Pearl Guinea fowl.
After our 3 guinea fowl were taken by predators (in one fell swoop!), we were eager to learn from our mistakes and try again. However, being so late in the season no feed stores near us would be getting them again this year. We considered ordering from a hatchery, but most require 20 or more chicks to be purchased at a time (so they will generate enough warmth to sustain them through shipping) and we only wanted a few. We finally decided to hatch our own, after seeing “hatching eggs” for sale online.
Buying Hatching Eggs
A quick search on ebay turns up hundreds of listings for eggs of every variety. It’s easy to get carried away with so much available. Because guineas and turkey have similar incubation times and temps and can be incubated together, I ordered a half dozen each: French Pearl Guinea and Bourbon Red Turkey eggs from sellers with high feedback scores. Buying something online that comes with zero guarantee, from a person you don’t know does feel a bit risky, but after reading through comments from other buyers, I was confident. Both sellers were great, and the eggs arrived in perfect condition. That was my experience, but I’ve also read of people having problems, so always use your judgement.
The Set Up
Since this was our first time attempting to hatch eggs, I wanted to get equipment that I had seen work and I wanted it to be as automated as possible. I’ve seen many tutorials, and videos from others who have made their own incubators, and perhaps we’ll build one with a higher capacity in the future, but this time I wanted something trusty. We bought a Hovabator styrofoam incubator, with a fan and an automatic egg turner, and set it up in the most insulated space in our house: the linen closet. This provided the most stable temperature, as well as being quiet and out of the way as to not disturb them.
The egg turner gently rocks the eggs, which get placed pointy end down in it’s trays, 30° back and forth. This simulates the way a hen would rotate the eggs, preventing the embryo from sticking to the shell and aiding development. This can be done without a turner, by marking the eggs on one side with a pencil so you know which side is which, and then turning them by hand several times daily. Using an automatic turner eliminates the need to open the incubator as frequently and helps maintain a consistent environment. I’m glad we got one.
Last, I set up an additional thermometer and hygrometer sensor from ConnectSense, to monitor temperature and humidity levels remotely. This is overkill, but I wanted to be able to collect and analyze the data at the end of the hatch to better understand my results, as well as be alerted if conditions strayed from ideal. Below is a graph of that data over the duration of the incubation period. You can see the temperature spikes from opening the incubator to candle eggs or add water for humidity. If anyone is interested, you can download the CSV here.
The eggs arrived after 3 days in transit, and were given a few hours to settle before being placed in the incubator. I candled the eggs immediately to look for cracks or signs of breakage and all looked good. The seller who I purchased the guinea eggs from even threw in an extra for free! So, the total count was 7 guinea eggs and 6 turkey eggs. Both of these birds require 28 days, at 99.5º. At day 23 I candled the eggs one last time, and discarded those which were clearly empty. A quick crack in a bowl provided all the evidence I needed. 2 guinea eggs and of the 1 turkey eggs were infertile.
On day 25, I opened the incubator with the intention of adding some water to raise humidity and removing the egg turner, only to find that two of the guinea eggs had already pipped! Rather than disturbing the eggs further by removing the egg turner, I just unplugged it. By not turning the eggs during the last days, the chick is supposedly able to orient itself for the great escape. Over the next 3 days, all 5 guinea eggs and 4 of the 5 turkey eggs had hatched. 1 of the turkey eggs developed upside down, and needed to be set on it’s side after being discovered, and 1 of our turkey eggs contained a full-term poult (baby turkey), but for some reason it had expired before it was able to hatch. Looking at the recorded temperatures, I wonder could it have been the slight spike near the end? For a short time temps were 100+
I made a brooder to house the hatchlings out of a box, and a lid from some scrap materials. I put a 60 watt lamp on each side for warmth. We purchase ‘new’ sometimes, but re-use or make our own whenever possible. It isn’t always pretty, but it usually does the job. 72 hours after the hatch, all 5 guinea keet, and all 4 of the turkey poults are alive, thriving, and insanely cute.
Now that we have the incubator, sensors, and a tiny bit of experience, I’m excited to hatch more eggs in the future. It’s fun and rewarding, and is typically less expensive than buying hatchlings. Because eggs can be shipped from all over the country, you can find more diverse genetics, and it’s easier to find the specific breed of bird you want to keep. Plus, the feeling of watching a little mcnugget breaking out its egg and into the world is pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on your face.